Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 50

So, today is my birthday. I'm officially legal [for what, you will have to use your imagination].

It's been a fun few decades, I have to say, and I've had a good life so far, and am looking forward to more adventures and mischiefs.

Lately, perhaps because of my impending birthday, I kept thinking about my childhood. My family wasn't rich -- far from it, actually -- and I do remember being envious of all the "nice stuff" my friends had. I tried to fit in, but I couldn't afford all those fancy tennis rackets and shoes and road trips. But now I look back on my childhood, I realized I had so much fun, so many friends, and really all I ever needed. Was it perfect? No, but whose childhood is? What I had, and still have, is love and support of my family. In fact, I think I'm really spoiled (for a writer) because I was so loved and never had to go through any real traumas or significant losses. I sometimes wonder, "Does that make my stories less potent or powerful, because I haven't experienced real tragedies?" But I realize, first-person experiences are not prerequisites of being a writer. Imagination, hard-work, and empathy are; and I think I've got those.

500 words, 21000 words total
315 days and 164500 words to go

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 48

Today is pet peeve day. So let's join the choir and sing.

OK, I know we've all been newbies and we all have plenty of questions, uncertainties, etc. And, at least in theory, there's no such thing as a stupid question. All is good. But some of the questions asked by some of the new writers border on being asinine, approaching the "why's there a cupholder on my PC"-style epic FAIL.

Yes, there are such things as stupid questions!

- How long should a chapter be?

- Should it be "Great," she said or "Great." She said ?

- Is it "lay," "lied," or "laid"?

- Can you have more than one "and" in a sentence?

Etc. etc. etc.

I can tolerate these questions once in a while, but when I see or hear them all the time, I start to wonder if our school system really sucks so bad. Or do people actually read? These questions could easily be answered if these people had actually read a book. And have they ever heard of dictionaries?

I don't know if this grumpiness comes with old age -- and I'm definitely in the old fart category -- or people are getting lazier and lazier.

And if you ask a question like "How long should a chapter be?" don't be surprised if you get a snippy remark, from me, such as "How long is a piece of string?" Your feelings are hurt? Maybe that would do your soul some good.

1400 words, 20500 words total
317 days and 165000 words to go

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 47

I was lying in bed this morning, groggy and between sleep and wake and I started to think about my story. It was the weirdest thing, like suddenly I was seeing a movie and I knew exactly what my characters were doing and how the scenes played out, complete with camera angles and background music. So I finally got out of bed and rushed to my laptop and started typing. Now I think I have the rest of this part of the book figured out, and I'm so excited!

The G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh is finally over. The Obamas and the world leaders have come and gone already, and everything is back to normal. They even had a Pirates game last night. I'm kind of proud and embarrassed by my hometown.

Proud because the city has accomplished a lot and they're a worthy pick to host the summit. Proud because the city has continuously reinvented itself, cleaned up its acts, beautified its environments. Proud because Pittsburgh is a winner, never a victim.

Embarrassed because Pittsburgh is still so provincial, small-town. Embarrassed because Pittsburgh doesn't know how to stay in the International spotlight. Embarrassed because Pittsburgh has so much to offer but they don't know how to advertise itself. Embarrassed because there are still so many close-minded people in this town.

An KDKA reporter asked Obama, at the summit -- of ALL the questions he could ask the President -- what he thought of how the protestors ruined such a wonderful gathering. Obama, rightfully, set him straight: "Look, there were 20,000 protestors in London. I'm very proud of the Pittsburgh police for handling this summit." One-two-punch. Yes, Pittsburgh's journalists are provincial -- they never went to TRUE International cities like London or Beijing or Paris where 5000 protestors are a child's play. And it was gracious for Obama to turn that around to praise the, IMHO, overreacting Pittsburgh police. But at least things were under control (even though Pittsburgh's downtown was cleared out like a ghost town for the world to see), and there were no serious outbreaks or terrorist attacks. Still, it embarrassed me. Pittsburgh has come a long way, but there's still some distance for them to go to be truly International.

Or perhaps Pittsburghers don't want to be International. They actually pride themselves for having a small-town feel and hospitality. These are hardworking people and they are winners in every way. So maybe I shouldn't be so hard on them. It's just that I came from an International mecca (Hong Kong) and I've heard so many people tease and chide my second hometown, Pittsburgh, for being small and provincial. In a way, I just hope people will change their minds about what this wonderful city could offer. No, it's not London or New York or Chicago or Hong Kong, but it's a damn fine city.

100 words, 19100 words total
318 days and 166400 words to go

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 45

What a dreadful day!

The stock market sinks -- one of my stocks lost over 5% today. I had a splitting headache that just wouldn't go away. It's been raining all day. And look at my biorhythm for the day (and week): it's like the planets have aligned to make me feel miserable.

So here I am, staring at my WIP once again and feeling MEH. I know I can add 500 words to it, but they are most definitely going to be shit. So why bother? I'm just going to end up deleting them. Right now, I just want to crawl in bed and sleep off the rest of the week.

But write I must. I've made a promise to myself to write 500 words a day, even if they are crap.

Same old story. Why do I keep repeating myself. It's getting tiresome.

In fact, maybe I should just run naked in the rain and get arrested for it. That would be something unusual.

500 words, 19000 words total
320 days and 166500 words to go

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 44

Some people asked me why I blog.

I'm not entirely sure. I think part of it is that I have something to say, and I don't want that to disappear in cyberspace. I enjoy expressing myself, whether it's about writing or life or something that excites me or just some silly stuff -- this is me. I kind of wear my thoughts and feelings on my sleeves and I find "blogging" a good outlet for me. In real life, especially with people I don't really know, I'm rather quiet and reserved. I don't like to reveal too much about myself. Online, on a blog or something, I tend to open up a lot more, and probably tell people too much about myself.

But that's okay. If one day I find the whole thing too intimidating and troublesome, I can just nuke it.

Right now, I do enjoy this blog as an outlet for me to write, whether anyone reads it or not. Who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, when I become famous or dead, someone will read back all my posts here and wonder: This guy's kind of cool. It certainly is fun to read back what I wrote five years ago. Or three years ago. I think blogging, in that sense, is definitely more personal than MySpace or Facebook or Twitter -- those are more about social networking and the "moment." Blogging is more nostalgic in many ways.

So, yeah, I still blog, and I've been blogging so much more lately since I started the 500 words a day challenge. And it's a good thing. It keeps the creative juices flowing.

500 words, 18500 words total
321 days and 167000 words to go

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 42

My friend Melanie showed us (albeit online) her nasty toe injury where part of her nail was ripped off... How pleasant.

That got me thinking: I have all kinds of scars on my body (and an obscure one on my chin) and I have no idea where they came from. Seriously. These are what I call my mystery life scars. They are kinda like emotional scars, in that you know they're there, but you have a hard time tracing back when and how they got there. On whom you should blame. Or if they will ever completely go away.

Most of us came to this world in almost perfect form -- apart from a birthmark or two, we were almost perfect. Perfect skin. Perfect head. Perfectly tiny feet. And perfect bottom. But as the years go on, we acquire more and more scars and blemishes. Acne scars for our youth. Spots and freckles for our age. And scars of our hearts for our devotions. These scars, in truth, are the reminders that we are indeed human, that we have histories, that they are all unique and that we are not just some tiny human replicas.

That's why sometimes I look in the mirror and see that scar on my chin, and I smile and say, "You're one sexy scar." Because it's all mine.


800 words, 18000 words total
323 days and 167500 words to go

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 41

I've been loading books on my Kindle and reading a bit more than I used to. I hate to say it, but eBook is really convenient, especially for a guy like me who a) hates to bring books everywhere he goes, b) is a slow reader, and c) likes to put down books and pick them up again later, switching among them, but often forgets which book he was reading and where he's left off.

This is not an advertisement for the Kindle or any eBook readers. Just that the K fits my reading needs much better than regular books. I still miss the textile look and feel of a real book, but as far as "reading" is concerned, I don't miss them. For one thing, many have small prints -- at my ripe old age, it's harder and harder to read print without wearing reading glasses. With an eBook reader, I can change the font to really BIG -- easy on my eyes. Second, the bookmark, "go to location" and "last location" features are great for me to get back to exactly where I want to go. Then the "recent read" feature allows me to know which books I've been reading, and that makes switching among them simple.

Not to mention the Kindle accepts regular documents (DOC, RTF, PDF, etc.) so I can send my manuscripts and read them like a book (instead of a computer screen). That's awesome for a writer like me. To make it better, the Kindle also has text-to-speech feature; that makes "editing" an easier task because I do catch errors when I "hear" the book instead of reading it. This weekend I copied and pasted about 200 pages of material from a writing contest so I could take and read them anywhere I go (to the cafe, the theater, the couch). Awesome convenience. I can so see why agents and editors are adopting the technology with eager arms -- it truly can make their jobs so much easier.

200 words, 17200 words total
324 days and 168300 words to go

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 39

I don't even remember what I did in the last three days. It's been quite a blur. I guess I was still kind of in a funk.

I had to completely rework the scenes I wrote a few days ago because I wasn't happy with how they turned out. I guess I broke my own rule: no editing/rewrite during first draft. But I felt like I had to do it to get a better sense of what will come next.

Then yesterday, as I was struggling with one scene, I realized I didn't have to do that. I had a lot of material to use for the rewrite and I can figure everything out later. I don't want to lose my momentum, and I need to move on. It's not necessary for me to have everything figured out now. I can write the next section of the story without knowing exactly what happened in this, except for the outcome, which drives the plot along.

Today, however, I need to polish and edit the first 10 pages of my ms. It's part of a contest/game/exercise I'm doing. I took a swipe at it last night and was surprised to see how much work needs to be done on the earlier part of the book, which I wrote about four years ago. Time has changed, and my writing has changed -- hopefully for the better. Stuff I thought was pretty good four years ago now suddenly looks crappy. What a pain -- a writer's pain. Or am I too hard on myself?

The good news: I got a new Kindle (the K2). It's so much better than the K1. The best thing I can send my mss. to it and read them on the Kindle, and it's so much easier to find errors or problems reading on the Kindle than on the computer screen -- imagine that. Plus the Kindle includes text-to-voice. Again, a big plus for my writing. I've already noticed many things I needed to fix by just reading the first few chapters on the device. I think that alone is good enough reason to fork out the cash.

Besides, GE is paying for it. :)


My mojo is seriously off these few days. Concentration, gone. Creativity, gone. Productivity, gone. Everything I have written seems shitty, and I end up just deleting what I wrote. I must have written like 1000 words and then deleted them all. I know, one of the challenges is to allow myself to write crap and crappy words should count, too. But I just can't. Leaving these crappy words and "wrong" scenes in the manuscript is like having a scab on my arm -- it just bothers me, and I HAVE to pick at it and remove it. Maybe I have OCD against crappy words. I just loathe them and cannot stand the thought of their existence.

Writing them out, however, did help me figure things out. For example, I wrote one scene between the brothers. Actually I wrote the same scenes two different ways, with very different interactions and dialogue. Afterwards, I decided the whole thing was wrong, and I should take a different direction. Again, it was like Eureka! I realize I was complicating things and that's why the words didn't flow -- the scenes were wrong for the characters, and wrong for the stories. It's like deep down my characters are screaming: "That's not how we would act. You're MAKING us do things." So instead, I need to really listen to my characters. They know what they're doing and what they want.

500 words, 17000 words total
326 days and 168500 words to go

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 36

Let's talk conception. Yeah, you heard me right, and I don't mean conception as in ideas or novels or anything writing related. I mean reproduction.

OK, actually I do want to talk about ideas, novel writing, publishing, etc. but I think it's interesting how getting published is rather like trying to conceive. Yes, reproduction (or the act of reproduction, at the very least) has been on my mind lately (we're all adults here, so get real), but the more I think about it, the more I realize there's a great parallel here.

Think about it. Publishing is kind of like trying to get pregnant. Now not that I have ever tried to get pregnant, even if I wanted to (that just comes off completely wrong, doesn't it?). But look, even if conception seems very easy for some couples, I bet it's not always that way, and not without some "trying." Getting pregnant on just one occasion is more likely to happen in fiction than in real life. Not that it can't happen, just as someone may really hit the publishing jackpot on first try. It does happen, but it's not that common.

So, it does take a lot of practice. A lot of trying. And it's really fun. Let's face it, sex is fun. It's only when you actually try to have a baby and it continues to fail that you feel frustrated and stressed out. "What are we doing wrong?" "What is wrong with me/us?"

Such frustration is not uncommon among writers.

Studies show that the chance of conception is only 20% even during ovulation. And "ovulation" means the right time, the right place. Now try to catch the right agent/publisher at the right time, at the right place, and you can see that the odds are not really that much better.

Then it takes a LOT of sperm, I mean, millions and millions to make this work. Think of these little buggers as the millions of words you have ever written, and you will ever write in the future. It takes a lot of words to make a masterpiece.

And not every word or piece of work is created equal. Some are great swimmers, dashing in a straight line, ready to be the hero. Some barely move. Some are just deadbeats. Deformed. Incomplete. In fact, up to 40% immotility and 85% abnormal morphology are still considered "normal" fertility. That's a pretty high rate of FAIL. So, imagine all the stories you have ever written. Suddenly it doesn't sound so bad.

Because ALL IT TAKES IS ONE. (it may not even be the best swimmer)

And lots of "doing it."

So have fun.

100 words, 16500 words total
329 days and 169000 words to go

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 35

What happened to me over the weekend?

My friends all thought I was having a lazy weekend. And in many ways, it was very relaxing. And I also did not write anything. Not a word. The reason is actually simple: I was rather depressed for some reasons. It's not something I like to broadcast or talk about. But fact is fact. I guess I'm just like an engine. Sometimes you've just got to shut it down.

I'm also a man. An Asian man at that, and that means I do not talk about unpleasant thoughts much, let alone something such as depression. Granted, this isn't some deep, chronic, incapacitating kind of depression. More like a funk. Not unlike the weekly funk I've had recently. In fact, it's very much like that and I got to think, I never did have one of those funky times this week. In fact, I was feeling very good about everything this whole week.

Maybe it was just caffeine crash.

But again, the fact that I'm a man, an Asian man, makes it difficult by default to talk about "bad things." More often than not, my friends and family only know about the good things happening in my life. There's certain decorum, or facade, or whatever you want to call it -- to be perfect, to be smart, resourceful, cheery, polite, on top of the world.

I guess most people are like that -- no one likes to show their dirty laundry. And the fact is, no one can do anything anyway, except say, "Awww, I'm so sorry you're feeling like crap." So what's the point, albeit garnering some type of sympathy, in talking about negative feelings, mental states, or the woes of our lives. Leave those to fiction! And assign them to fictional characters!

Maybe that's what I've been doing as a writer? Maybe I've been projecting my own disappointments, sadness, etc. etc. on my characters? Or is it the other way around? Are my characters depressing me? The truth, I have been writing some heavy shit, something I would never in a million years wish upon others (well, except a few assholes).

And that's the thing: it doesn't matter which way it goes. The important thing is, we writers need outlets to let off steam, to get out of our own heads and to just live life, to experience something REAL. It's kind of ironic that I feel, at times, I need to escape to the "real world" while most people try to escape with fiction.


I did manage to feel better and write about 1500 words today. I also rearranged a few scenes; they now make more sense and, I believe, are better and more powerful as far as storytelling is concerned.

A good day.

1500 words, 16400 words total
330 days and 169100 words to go

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 32

Today is September 11. I'd like to take this opportunity to observe the day. Some of the darkest moments of the country, also some of the brightest. I hope everyone remembers what that day means, and how the American people rose above adversity and banded together. And how soon we all forget we are AMERICANS.

Let the stupid bickering and hatefulness stop!

Hug everyone you love. Say thanks to everyone in uniform. Remember September 11.


A reviewer once called my writing "purple."

There's, of course, a bad connotation with "purple prose," thanks to the annual Bulwer-Lytton contest. But what exact is it, and what does it mean? I only thought the reviewer didn't particularly care for my style, which some of my readers called "poetic" or "lyrical" (and they liked it).

Michael Chabon has been called the King of Purple. And he's won a Pulitzer. So who knows? :shrug: Personally, I think some people are just envious of his talent and fantastic way with words.

And I like writer James MacDonald's definition: Purple prose is a cross between red prose and blue prose.

To me, there's only bad prose and good prose. And even that is a judgment call. Art is subjective. Even the ability to communicate, which is in essence the fundamental purpose of writing, is subjected to interpretation. I mean, I don't understand a third of the poetry I read -- have no idea what they really mean -- but they're art. So who am I to say it's not well written?

But there are always some guidelines, some standards, somewhere. To me, the following is bad prose (maybe it's just a standard I set for myself):

He went to school. He put his backpack in the locker. He went to the classroom. He closed the door. He forgot to bring his books. He went back out in the hallway. He bumped into Mrs. Hall. He apologized. She said okay.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I can read something like that. Every sentence is perfectly, grammatically fine. Technically they are correct. But are they well-crafted? What does that mean anyway? Is there some kind of measurement we can use to gauge if something is "well-written"? I can only tell you that I don't think the passage above is well-written, and I would not want to read it. If you do, be my guest.

So how about this, which some people would consider "purple":

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.
(David McKenzie, winner of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Contest)

Again, what is wrong with the passage? Every word seems to be correct. The grammar is sound. Of course, I have no idea what is being conveyed, but is that the definition of "purple prose"? Why is it so bad that it's good? What did Mr. McKenzie do that most self-respecting writers won't?

I'm not sure.

How about some honest to goodness "good" purple prose I personally enjoy:

Tired of Maggie Thatcher, her hedgehog eyes, her vacuous hair, her cotton-mouthed edicts on jobs, on taxes, on terrorist acts. Tired of bickering over the Chunnel, over untapped oil off the Isle of Mull. Tired of rainy foggy pewtered skies. Here, too, there are clouds, but they are inconsequential, each one benign as a bridal veil. And wind, but the wind is warm, making a cheerful fuss of the awning over the tables, carrying loose napkins like birds to the edge of the harbor against the hulls of fishing boats.

Wow, such long, run-on sentences. The overload of adjectives. And yet I'm captivated by this message. So rich and succinct. Are they purple? Possibly. Are they magnificent? I think so (although I object to the word "pewtered" which verbifies a noun. But then again, I just did with the noun "verb").

200 words, 14900 words total
333 days and 170600 words to go

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 31

Epiphany! Don't you just love epiphanies?

I was just finishing up with one scene and getting ready for the immediate next one when I had one of those things called epiphanies. I suddenly realize I had it all wrong. I now have to redo that scene completely but it's going to be 100x better. It's going to be with one fewer character (but something that is pivotal -- he just doesn't know it yet. LOL) and a different circumstance. I get goosebumps just thinking about that.

It's funny how the mind works, and how "getting the stuff down" really is the key here. Without writing that scene and now scrapping it (sounds like a waste, doesn't it?), I wouldn't have had this epiphany which would make the plot much stronger. So the writing itself is not wasted, far from it. I call that the literary Drano™. It helps unclog whatever is in that pipe and get that creative juice flowing again.


And that's exactly what I did. I rewrote the whole scene and replaced a character. And then I focused on the relationship between two main characters: father and son. That relationship has always been there, tangled, unresolved. And it's about time that it gets some airtime. However, there is no way I am going to resolve it in just one scene or two. And I believe I must leave it unresolved. That's what literature is about -- nothing is ever nice and neat, is it? Like real life.

1000 words, 14700 words total
334 days and 170800 words to go

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 30

It's been a month since I started this challenge, and so far, I've been keeping up with it. Granted, I'm still about 1000 words short of my target -- so, yeah, I've had a couple of bad days. But the year is still young, and with Fall and Winter coming soon, I'd have nothing else to except write. Right? :)

While waking up and feeling groggy this morning, I had a thought, an idea of a new novel. Not a very sophisticated one, not like my WIP now, but an interesting one, I think. This kind of things always happen when I'm half-asleep. I wonder why. It's like my mind goes into a this place of wild imagination where my consciousness doesn't try to control or conceal. The other night, for example, I had a vivid dream with a beginning, middle, and end! If only my brain could physically write or manifest a manuscript (don't try to steal this idea... I already wrote a short story about that :) ).

Speaking of following dreams. Listening to Barbara Padilla, a housewife and cancer survivor, sing gives me chills (video). She reminds me of a friend of mine, Angela, who sang beautifully (and still does, I'm sure) and now a mother and a nurse. She has the greatest of heart and is a wonderful person, with a great voice. :) I wish all her dreams would come true just as it does for Barbara Padilla.

Let's keep our dreams real. Let's do it.

Oh, and happy 09/09/09

500 words, 13700 words total
335 days and 171800 words to go

Unreliable Narrator

A writer asks: How do you make an effective unreliable character?

The narrator, Greg Lockland, in The Pacific Between is a semi-reliable character. Not that Greg lies a lot, but he doesn't always speak the truth, or he omits information (out of embarrassment, etc.) or he has his own version of the truth to tell. So how does it all work?

Here are some pointers:

A) Learn from the masters. Catcher in the Rye, Fightclub, etc. etc.

B) by nature of first person narrative, your narrator is already semi-reliable because the audience can't completely trust the narrator, can they? It's always colored by the narrator's POV, his own judgments, his thoughts and his world views. If they do, there must be a reason. So I'd say by default the 1st person narrator is not entirely reliable to begin with.

C) I don't think people are going to see unreliable narrator as a source for plot holes or inconsistency, but more like mystery and intrigue. If you write it well, the readers will be drawn to the character even though they may not completely trust him/her. And often it's not that the narrator is lying, but more like he's either omitting certain information (out of embarrassment, etc.) or telling his own version of the story (you mentioned Rashomon).

D) You can use other characters to shine some light into the story, or reveal the contradictions (at the same time create conflicts), or cast some doubts on the narrator's testimony. Say, the wife accuses the narrator for being a cheater and a liar, while the narrator keeps saying she's wrong. Now the readers will have to decide who is telling the truth... thus you have an intriguing plot going on. In real life, it's the same thing... we can't always tell if the other person is telling the truth or full of themselves. So we can only take their word for it, or find other ways to verify the information. Same here... you need to give the readers a way to find the real truth.

E) Focus on the external and not the internal. Internally the narrator could be unreliable, but externally, he observes. And by those observations the readers could get hints of what really is going on.

F) Read.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 29

Week 5. Wheeee.

So where did I get this thing, whatever you want to call it, about writing? When did I begin to want to be a writer, or more precisely, a storyteller? I think I've always been some kind of fancy, when it comes to my imagination. I won't say I was a perpetual liar growing up, but I liked to tell stories. And I loved stories. When I was a little boy, some of my favorite possessions were story books. I still remember the Aesop fables and Chinese folktales. I liked how they not only told me stories with morals, but also gave me a hint of that world in which the stories were written, whether it was ancient Greece or the Middle Kingdom.

Of course, my first love has always been movies. I was a movie baby. My parents first took me to the movies when I was very young. First it was the usual Disney cartoons and comedies. Then there were the more serious grownup films such as Doctor Zhivago and Jaws (I first saw Jaws when I was eight years old). My love for movies has never ceased,. What movies did to me, however, was awaken my imagination. There was a little voice inside that told me, "You have stories to tell. So tell them."

My "writing" career didn't really blossom until high school, but not without the usual struggles. I loved my creative writing assignments, but loathed the formal ones. I also hated the literary analyses and book reports. To me, those were tedious "work," and being the lazy student that I was, I hated all the work. But creative writing was never work for me. I loved it. And I often got good grades on those assignments. And one teacher, Mr. Lau (who has since passed away), actually went so far as to give this comment: "casual and poignant, yet powerful enough to move mountains." Now, that's some compliment a thirteen-year-old boy could not forget.

I also had to thank my good friend Andrew at school for helping me develop my skills and nurture my love for writing. Andrew, like me, was a writer, although our styles were rather different. Mine was a bit fanciful, and his was more grounded by reality. But we shared our work with each other. During one summer when we were both fourteen, Andrew and I exchanged, through mail, many short stories, poetry, couplets, song lyrics, word games and ideas. The more we wrote, the better we wrote. And by the end of that summer, we had written a few "volumes" of material, none of which, I felt, was publishable, but that was the first time I took writing seriously. Andrew was the first person in my life (other than my teachers) with whom I felt comfortable to share my work. And the real grace is this: Andrew and I remain friends to these days, and he was one of the first to read The Pacific Between before it got published. In a way, it was my way to say, "Thanks, buddy, look how far we've come." (Andrew, incidentally, published his first play years before I did my novel)

So, Andrew, if you're reading this, please let me say: "Don't let the dream die. Keep writing."


p.s. I wrote about 2000 words today. Yay! That's the most I've written in a day in, like, months, so that's a really good morale boost for me. Now I just have to think about the next scene, which is going to be interesting...

2000 words, 13200 words total
336 days and 172300 words to go

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 27 & 28

Hi, my name is Ray, and I'm a stallaholic.

Yes, I think I'm stalling, and I think I may actually enjoy stalling. What do I mean? I think we've all been there as writers: we keep tweaking and writing more on a scene, especially a transitional scene, when what we REALLY want to write, the big scenes, come next. That's what I've been doing these two days -- I have a huge scene coming up, an important confrontation and plot point; things are going to change after this. So what have I been doing the last two days? Adding words to a transitional scene, one where the protagonist is traveling, making his way to where he needs to be.


The transition is by no means trivial -- it sets the mood, and creates a certain expectation, or intrigue, or suspense -- whatever you want to call it. I enjoy writing the transition, but it's still only transition. In many ways, the whole can and probably will be cut out in subsequent drafts. So why did I just spend two days working on such a scene? Was it supposed to be a literary exercise? Was I doing a literary throat-clearing?

Indeed, I think I'm stalling. Because I'm scared shitless about tackling the big plot point. It daunts me.

How can I stop myself from stalling? By plunging into the cold water, of course.

Therefore, what I want to do tomorrow is to completely abandon this transitional scene and get on with the big plot point.

Take the plunge.

Head first.

Wish me luck.

200 word, 11200 words total
337 days and 174300 words to go

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 26

It's the weekend again. My nemesis. And a long weekend at that. Evil.

I did manage to get quite a lot done today, including meeting my quota. I'm kind of proud of that. Of course, to those colleagues who can turn out 2000 or 4000 words a day, my tiny 500 words are pitiful. For me, though, they're quite a triumph. Also, I'm enjoying the part of the story, whether it's because I'm writing regularly, so it's easier to get in the zone, or that this is the part of the story that I've thinking of for the last YEAR. That's right: year. I've come to a point of the story where I feel like I can really move forward now, not that the plot wasn't moving before -- it was. But now I'm done with the war part and, like the war prisoners in my story, they get to move on with their lives. And the second part of the story is every bit, if not more, gripping, with lots of changes and growing up to do. It's really exciting for the characters and me.

I know, this sounds so vague and it's not like I don't want to share my story or plot, but like my friend Patricia said, it's probably a good idea not to share too much of our writing during the draft phase. Not that we're afraid someone would steal our ideas, but it's a way for us to keep our story "pure," in a sense, without a lot of external influences. I welcome brainstorming though, and I do sometimes share my thoughts with very close friends. Still, I think Patricia has a point.

But anyway, I'm quite fired up by this part of the story, but at the same time I'm nervous. What if I screw it up? What if what was in my mind for the last year or so (with regard to this part of the story) doesn't really work? What if this is cliched? What if? What if? I hate when I feel that way. It feels so paralyzing sometimes and I would agonize over how to write these scenes because there are a million ways to write them.

Then I have to remember why I started this challenge to begin with: to be rid of this fear and to forge on. I have to remind myself that I am allowed to write crap, and only when I have words on the page can I rewrite. I am allowed to let go and just let my mind take me wherever. I'm allowed to not judge what I write, but just write. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's easier said than done for someone like me, who is kind of a perfectionist. By far it's one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome and I'm not quite there yet.

500 word, 11000 words total
339 days and 174500 words to go

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 25

Writing a novel is kind of like chipping away a block of marble to reveal the sculpture within, except in reverse.

What we start out is usually a blank piece of paper or a blank document, then we start to fill in words that attempt to convey the ideas and thoughts and characters and stories in our mind. Every word is equivalent to every chisel, but instead of subtracting, we're adding. In the past, every chisel had to be precise; it had to reflect the exact creation process or else the entire block would have to be thrown out. I can't say I envy the discipline and frustration writers must have had as they wrote on their typewriters. Modern writers are truly spoiled by computers and the ease to copy, paste, cut and edit.

Even so, storytelling remains a daunting task to do well. There's an art to the whole thing that no amount of technological advancement can replace. It's called creativity. And I'm glad to be living in a culture that promotes and encourages creativity, and provides ever-improving tools to help lift that creativity.

My favorite computer platform now is the Mac, and my favorite writer's tool is iWork/Pages. I love the simplicity and the compactness of the software. It allows me to focus on my writing. And yet it also provides me with the bells and whistles to edit and rewrite, or to collaborate with others. Tools should not hinder; they should enhance the creative process. And I have find it absolutely true with the slew of utilities and applications available on the Mac.

So, every day I'm chipping away the block, adding the black marks into my virtual pages called a document. 500 words every day. Sometimes I slack. Sometimes I do more than I've allotted for the day. But the incredible thing is, I am writing. So far I've added 10,000 words to the WIP, more than I've done in the past three months. And that's the important thing, that I keep chipping away.

Chip. Chip. Chip.

500 word, 10500 words total
340 days and 175000 words to go

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 24

The world is full of shoulda, coulda, and woulda. what we need is more will and can, less maybe and more definitely.

500 word, 10000 words total
341 days and 175500 words to go

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 23

What a gorgeous autumn day it is today. Yes, I just said "autumn." Is it wrong? I simply don't mind autumn to arrive sooner. It's a gorgeous season. The weather is incredible. So why not? Haven't we had enough of summer already? What's wrong with two and half months of Fall?

Absolutely nothing.

Between now and the end of October is what I would call, at least in this part of the world, the magic season. The Goldilocks season: not too hot, not too cold, not to sunny, not too cloudy. Just right. And there's something marvelous about the crisp air and vibrant fall colors that begin to sweep from the north to the south starting about now. Simply magical.

So here I am, sitting by a large window looking out at the trees and their shadows, and I'm writing. Yes, I'm still writing. I've been working on these "homecoming" scenes for a couple of days now, and that's some emotional stuff. Here I am, sitting at a Starbucks and I'm getting misty eyes, and I need to compose myself so I won't look like a fool with all these strangers around me. These are important, powerful scenes, and I want to do them justice. I don't want some trite, contrived, cliched scenarios but at the same time, I want them to be real. So what is it like to be gone to war and have spent four years in prison camps and then gone home to discover everything is gone? That's the kind of stuff I'm working on this week.

Good stuff. Scary stuff. Wonderful stuff. Nerve-racking stuff.

500 word, 9500 words total
342 days and 176000 words to go

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 22

Time really flies when you have a goal. I can't believe it's been three weeks since I started this and I'm now in week four. And I've written more than I did in the last three months!

Today, I'm going to repost something I posted in spring, 2005, about the time I started working on this WIP. I think it's good to always remind ourselves why we're doing what we do in the first place:

Have you ever gotten a word of encouragement, from the most unlikely source, that simply blows you away and changes your life?

I have.

I don't think this person had any idea what kind of impact his encouraging words, probably written out of polite recognition, had on me. I received this email about 7 years ago when I was taking a novel writing class at UCLA. I wanted to write a novel, but I didn't know how. I knew I was a pretty good writer, but I wasn't completely sure I could ever write, not to mention publish, a novel.

I have since abandoned the novel I was working on at that time -- it wasn't meant to be. I liked the characters, but the story just didn't have anywhere to go (one day I might pick that story up again). But the experience of having written parts of it, and having those parts critiqued by fellow writers, proved to have had an enormous effect on me. It was during that time I started thinking about a new novel, thinking how I might one day finish it for real.

I bit the bullet about 3 years ago and wrote the first chapter. By then, the story had changed course, but the characters stayed on board. In November 2003, I finished it. It's called The Pacific Between. In November 2004, I sold it. And in November 2005, it will be published. The saga took me almost 8 years, but it was worth it. And all because of one piece of email.

Don't underestimate the power you have on someone else's life.

The Letter that helped push me toward my goal as a novelist, in its entirety:

...Anyway, what I REALLY wanted to convey to you write [SIG] now is that HELL YES!!! I THINK THAT YOU AND JAMES ARE THE BEST TWO WRITERS IN THE CLASS!!!! (Some of the other genre writers do what they do very well - but so much of genre writing is formula: do you have any doubt already EXACTLY where Nancy's narrative about the "mountaintop debutante" is predictably going to go? Of course not! We've all seen this show a thousand times! That does not make it "bad writing" - in fact, if "getting published" is the goal, Nancy can pretty much stop taking this course now and start submitting exactly what she's doing: she's nailed down that entire "romance genre" kind of writing to perfection!!!!! But it isn't the type of thing that you or I are doing - and, to be honest, it's not the type of thing I have very much respect for or interest in....)

God, I'm getting sidetracked again! The point that i was TRYING to make is that you DO have "writer's magic" and you have it in a way which I do not!!!! I can express exactly one thing perfectly: my inner states of mind. But THAT'S IT!!!! I understand how some people do not have as much facility to do this (you are NOT one of these people!!!) BUT I have always been amazed (because I do not have this facility) at how somebody can "make life and characters come ALIVE" on a page so that you ACTUALLY BELIEVE that these people are real! Tolstoy had this amazing ability, which is why his works are timeless and have been translated around the world ; Dostoyevsky - though he plumbed the depths of human psychology like nobody had ever done before or since - generally did not.

You, I think, have the Tolstoy gift; I, the Dostoyevsky. So rest assured: I am as murderously envious of your own gifts - and see in them a reflection of my own failure - as you may be of mine or anybody else's. Still, though (you can tell I've become a stoic), we all must put to the best use the abilities that we fortunately have. And I'm telling you Ray, if you don't think its absolutely MIRACULOUS that you have the magic to put a few marks on some paper (or, in this case, onto a computer screen) and have some yo-yos whom you've never even met physically LUSTING for a woman who does not even actually EXIST - well, my friend, in that case I would have to say that you're either just not giving yourself enough credit, or you're just not paying attention!!!!! (I think it is the former!)

Anyway, Ray - my Inner Henchman is FURIOUS with me for taking all this time away from the research library (Fuck him! Get a life, Jughead!!). Just keep doing what you're doing and let these stories take us where they may!!! One good guess on my part, however: you know your dad is gonna have to show up in this story at one point or another - and, if you ask me - he's going to be one of the central characters - maybe the central character when it comes to story conflict. An interesting way to go might be to write about that conflict as if it was something that was happening to Jason or to Janet, that way your narrator could comment on it and observe in a way which he could not if it was happening to him. (this is just a momentary thought I had: I have NO IDEA whether or not it would actually WORK - so caveat emptor, as the boyz back in the Bronx would say!)

500 word, 9000 words total
343 days and 176500 words to go